From Blog to "Book of the Year": Thinking Person's Guide to Autism

BlogHer Original Post

The blog project I co-edit just published our first book, Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. The reviews are fantastic: "Geek Syndrome" journalist Steve Silberman named it his Book of the Year, author Dr. Paul Offit calls our book "A thoughtful, intelligent, and empathetic guide full of practical information." It's selling like hotcakes on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Folks tell us they appreciate our book so much that they're asking their libraries to order it, and are donating copies to their pediatricians. Sounds like a publisher's dream, right? Except one thing:

It's self-published.

TPGA Blog to BookThat's not a dirty little secret. That's a point of pride. Our editorial team -- me, Jennifer Byde Myers, Liz Ditz, Emily Willingham, and Carol Greenburg -- chose this route because it meant we held the reins, we controlled the timing, we controlled the content. The autism book we needed when we or our kids were first diagnosed still didn't exist; we wanted Thinking Person's Guide to Autism (TPGA) in print yesterday. TPGA was too necessary to hinge on focus groups, capricious editors, or the whims of "niche" book marketing, so we made the book happen.

There's no secret to self-publishing, nor is it difficult. My seven-year-old daughter wants to publish a picture book called My Alien Friends, and with a little help from me and using CreateSpace or a similar service, she'll be able to do so, easily -- probably within a week, once all her drawings are done.

The difference between My Alien Friends and TPGA is scope -- ours is a 300+ page book, with 54 fantastic contributors providing the best  autism information we could find. TPGA is a one-stop autism handbook that answers the most pressing questions people have after an autism diagnosis: What the the ten most important first steps after that diagnosis? What does "behavior is communication" mean? How do I find a good school that suits my autistic child? What exactly can a speech therapist do for people with autism? What it is like to get a diagnosis as an adult? And ever so much more. Finding and curating top-notch material meant our book took a ... little bit more than a week.

That curation is where our blog www.ThinkingAutismGuide.com played a critical role. We were able to get extensive feedback on the essays we wanted to include in the book, by publishing preliminary versions of them at our blog. We also use the blog to continue expanding on the book's expert, experienced, and evidence-based autism perspectives -- we continue to publish several essays per week on autism topics that challenge, inform, and support both us and our readers. The blog also lets us publish all the essays we think have merit, as we still have pangs about making cuts for the book due to space or subject overlap.

Self-publishing may be straightforward, but on a book the size of TPGA, it's also extremely time-consuming. All five of us drew on our combined experience in writing, editing, and publishing, and threw ourselves into whatever roles were needed during the book production process -- though the the bulk of the manuscript wrangling was done by miracle worker Jennifer, who still curses under her breath whenever Chapter Headings are mentioned.

Of all the reasons to choose self-publishing, here's the clincher: We make a hell of a lot more money per book than we'd get via a traditional publisher. That matters to us. A lot. While self-publishing doesn't guarantee success, we have experience in using it for fundraising, and knew it was a good model for what we wanted to do. Now, every time we sell a book, we get to donate a much sweeter chunk of change to two autism organizations we admire, Autism Science Foundation and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. (If you're considering the fundraising/profit donation route, I suggest doing what Jennifer did for us, and setting up an official 501c3 charity like our Myers-Rosa Foundation -- that way you won't be personally liable for any resulting taxes, and your ledgers will be public record and therefore transparent.)

More excellent benefits of self-publishing: with a print-on-demand model, we don't have to worry about managing physical book inventory, or whether the book be removed from store shelves. And since CreateSpace is an Amazon service, they have a review process to make sure the book meets their standards before they place it on the main Amazon.com site, where there is no distinction between TPGA and traditionally published books.

I'm not going to lie to you: Our blog-to-book self-publishing model took constant hard work, and it almost ate us whole during the final book production cycle. But it was worth it. Once that time machine is invented, I now have the perfect guidebook to hand to myself right after my son's autism diagnosis -- when I was so lost, confused, and afraid, and just wanted someone to tell me two things: 1) My son was going to be OK and 2) what to do next.

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